The Evolution of the Mobile Entrepreneur

A look at the milestones that made you the wired entrepreneur you are today.
This story appears in the August 2009 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »
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If you often scan through the 300 messages on your BlackBerry and reflect fondly on those days when you used to skip town with nary a phone call or e-mail to worry about, you have quite a few people to blame for your current state of suffering. Here's a look back at the milestones that made you the wired businessperson you are today.

1973:Martin Cooper of Motorola makes the first cell phone call to a competitor at Bell Labs, thereby inventing a new way for entrepreneurs to talk smack to their rivals.

1983: While sitting in a parked car at Soldier Field in Chicago Bell executive Bob Barnett makes the first cellular call over a commercial network to a descendant of Alexander Graham Bell. While definitely a first, this was not the strangest act ever performed in a parked car at Soldier Field.

1987: In one of the cell phone's first starring roles as a business tool, Wall Street stud Gordon Gekko somehow manages to hold a cell phone to his ear despite its tremendous size and the oiliness of his hair.

1989: A long time before anyone heard the word iPod, the folks at Apple (some of whom would later work on the iPod) start working on the Newton platform, described as a handheld computer. In the next decade, the Newton would fall from the tree before it was ripe, but the basic idea landed in the hands of a fellow named Steve Jobs.

1992: The first so-called smartphone, the IBM Simon, is introduced. It contains a calendar and clock, can send faxes and electronic messages and, oh yeah, can make phone calls, all with a nifty stylus. The flat screen presages today's touchscreens; 17 years later, we finally figure out we don't need a stylus and can just use our fingers.

1999: The first BlackBerry appears--as a two-way pager with a flip-screen and keyboard inside its boxy little design. Thousands of thumbs scream in unison, "We now have a purpose that doesn't involve sucking."

2001: Apple launches the iPod. It's not a phone or a PDA or a computer, but it will influence the features and storage capabilities we will come to expect from our cell phones.

2002: What we know as the modern BlackBerry design debuts and attention spans at business meetings will never be the same.

2007: Steve Jobs comes down from the mountain holding an iPhone. The touchscreen, voice calling and internet features, storage capabilities and apps represent the culmination of the cell phone as a multiservice device--and the real beginning of the mobile entrepreneur.

2008: Mobile phone companies, recently obsessed with selling Hannah Montana phone skins to 10-year-olds, realize that small-business owners have more money than some of the 10-year-olds. Small-business-focused service plans and devices arrive en masse.

2009: Nokia opens its Ovi App Store. In addition to the business-focused app stores for the BlackBerry, the iPhone and the Palm Pre, there's now a place to easily buy fresh apps for your Nokia smartphone.

Edition: October 2016

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